How to Cope with a Difficult Work Environment

By David

November 30, 2013   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

You’ve read the reports about the economy, the jobless rate and the difficulties involved in finding employment. The statistics indicate that the world economy still hasn’t pulled out of the recession and finding a job — especially if you’re older — is harder than ever.

So you probably do everything that you possibly can to keep your job, even if the work environment is miserable. Most employees have to deal with a difficult work environment at one point or another but some individuals seem to be able to cope with the situation better than others.

It’s never easy to work well when your boss or co-workers are making life hard for you but there are a number of strategies that you can use to diffuse various situations and hold onto your job while retaining your sanity.

1.    Don’t become emotional when dealing with criticism. This can turn into a war of egos and no one wins. When someone attacks you they want to bait you into reacting emotionally. This sets up a never-ending cycle of attack-react-attack. Acknowledge a critical comment and move on. When you do this you take the wind out of the attacker’s sails. If you can manage to say “I’m sorry,” by all means, go ahead and say it. There’s not much that someone can say once you’ve said “I’m sorry” and, in a very real sense, it puts the power back in your court.

2.    Ask the attacker for advice. Speak calmly and try to make it seem as though you really want to know what the person thinks. Basically, you’ve just shifted the power out of their hands and into your own.

3.    If you’re having difficulties with your boss take a proactive approach and affirm how the boss wants things done. Make it clear to the boss that you’re amenable to changing your style, but you want to confirm what s/he wants so that everything is clear. If possible, get an outline of what the boss wants in writing so that you can refer to it later on.

4.    Go out of your way to do more than the minimum required. Regardless of whether you’re sweeping the floors in a fast food joint or preparing reports in an office setting, there are always ways for you to go above and beyond your basic responsibilities. Don’t preen, but do demonstrate that you value your job and that you’re a valued employee.

5.    Don’t go to up the chain of command unless you’re prepared to leave the job. Appealing to a supervisor is not an effective way of dealing with a difficult co-worker or boss. It will only increase the possibilities for conflict and you may get a reputation as a backstabber or a whistleblower. Go up the chain of command as a last resort but be prepared for unpleasant consequences.

6.    Try to develop a Plan B. Send out resumes, take on part-time clients in evenings and on weekends and generally create a situation in which you feel that you have some control over the situation and can, if need be, move on.

7.    Your boss and co-workers like praise as much as anyone. Don’t speak while the fire is hot, but during down-times, spread words of praise. “I was amazed at how well you handled that client” and “I learned a lot when I read your report” can go a long ways toward restoring harmony in the work environment.

8.    If you see that a co-worker or a supervisor is about to throw a fit, get out of the way. Excuse yourself by saying that a client is waiting for you or text someone and ask them to call you and then explain that you have to take the private call elsewhere. Just keep yourself out of the way of the tantrum-thrower. It’s hard to throw a tantrum when there’s no one around to watch.

Written on 11/30/2013 by Laurie Rappeport. Laurie is the mother of five. She lives in Safed, a northern city in Israel. She has worked for educational institutions, large companies and non-profits and has studied how to apply psychological principles to work environments. She is now a freelancer and is involved in Safed’s tourism industry

Photo Credit: Victor1558


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